What is a Musical Copyright?

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What is a Musical Copyright?And what does musical copyright have to do with music publishing?

Copyright is a designation of intellectual property similar to a patent or trademark. Once an original composition has been fixed in a medium from which it can be reproduced (having either been recorded or written down in some fashion), the composer is granted exclusive rights to that piece of music, including:

• the right to reproduce the song

• the right to distribute the song

• the right to perform the song

• The right to create derivative works

One of the keys to understanding how money is made in the world of music publishing is the fact that every recorded piece of music has two separate copyrights (which are not always owned or exploited by the same persons or parties).

The two separate copyrights for recorded music are:

1. The composition itself — a song’s music and lyrics, apart from any particular recording of that composition. This copyright is owned by the songwriter and/or publisher.

2. The sound recording — a particular recorded version of a musical composition. This copyright is owned by the recording artist and/or label.

Music publishing involves the exploitation of the first of those forms of copyright.

Exploitation — isn’t that a bad thing? Not in this case. In the world of music publishing, you make money when you exercise your copyright is a number of ways. For more information, check out our article, “5 Ways to Make Money in Music Publishing.

Publishing Guide: Get Paid the Money You Are Owed

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  • Stanislav Lekarev

    I understand that. I have been doing extensive research trying to figure out these copyright laws. How do I go about doing that? Do I file the composition copyrights under one type of copyright and the recording copyrights under another type? So I am able to file the composition under Performing works and then the sound recording under Sound Recording in the type of work on copyright office? Is that correct? I’m getting mixed messages from the research I been doing. Once I get this down, I’ll be able to continue it without much help.

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  • Hali Kay

    I wrote a song (lyircs and melody). I am now looking for a producer to produce the “beat” to the song. When I copyright the song I want to own the song in its entirety and split ownership of the sound recording copyright (that will include the beat).

    Basically, if someone uses my lyrics on a different beat, I don’t think it’s fair that the producer be paid. Also, the melody has underlying chords in it so in a sense the beat is already embedded in the song. It’s not like the producer made it from scratch.

    So my question, what is the best way to file a copyright?

  • If I'm understanding this correctly, YOU are the songwriter. Someone who supplies a recorded beat for a particular track may be credited as a performer, a producer, or an arranger. But they don't have any claim to the composition itself. If you wrote lyrics, melody, and harmony (chord changes), then I would file your copyright with you as the sole composer.

    @ChrisRobley